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Can You Mountain Bike with Vans Shoes?

A person riding a bmx with vans shoes.

Oh, the plight! You want to shred on the trail with all the best gear, yet you also want to look fashionable and stylish while you do it. The classic skate style shoe, Vans, should be your perfect answer, right? Well, maybe not.

While I love wearing my Vans Classic Slip Ons for a multitude of road sports, whether or not they’re right for your ride depends on a variety of factors and preferences. Read below to see if you should wear Vans on your next mountain biking adventure and some safe (and stylish) alternatives you might want to consider. 

Form vs. Function

A person with vans shoes and a skateboard.

Vans sneakers have been the definitive shoes for skateboarders, BMX riders, and urban cyclists for years. Their waffle pattern grip soles offer good traction and ease of use for cyclists. The flat bottom soles on this standard supply shoe are easy to slip in and out of flat bike pedals on your mountain bike.

Vans, specifically the well known laceless slip on variety with elasticized sides and a classic checkered pattern, have become the boilerplate footwear for any sport that needs a flat sole and seamless ease of use. They’re popular on and off the trail and are easy to slip on – literally no strings attached.

Without laces, though, you’re not going to be able to adjust the fit for your foot or ensure your ankles have the stability or protection you crave. 

The Vans Old Skool, their most popular lace-up style with sturdy synthetic uppers, might be the happy medium. You can still get them in any of the popular prints and patterns but you’ll have more adjustability and security as a rider. Stylewise, they’ll still make the iconic mark.

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Vans sneakers with its iconic sole.

The doodle that waves across the outer foot, drawn by founder Paul Van Doren, is recognized across the world for its edge and flow.

Flat closure shoes like Vans can also be more versatile if you want to travel or hike. Personally, I’m a hobby rider. I love grabbing a beer at a local pub while mountain biking through the upstate New York trails. Vans make it easy to transition from bike to bar. It’s the two-for-one kind of deal I love having in my gear.

However, this ease of use also means that while biking up a mountain you could easily slip your foot out of the Vans, leaving you stranded without a shoe. And nobody likes losing a shoe on the trail. 

Should You Go Clipless?

A person fixing his clipless shoes.

Of course, you can only wear either of these Vans sneakers if you have flat pedals on your MTB. If you know you have clip pedals on your mountain bike, you’ll have to stick to specialized shoes that can be fitted with cleats.

Japanese brand Shimano made the first pair or mountain bike pedals and shoes in 1990. Since then, numerous brands have focused on specific footwear and gear for mountain bike enthusiasts. 

Plus, some research shows that clipped in shoes give the rider more power and efficiency. Being “clipped in” to your bike has been shown to create a stronger contact and, therefore, more power. Rather than wasting energy navigating the pedal or trying to connect with it, the rider can propel forward at a higher rate with less energy expenditure.

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A study from the University of Colorado, Boulder, showed that an increase of approximately 10.2% of maximum sprint power is manufactured when using stiff-soled cycling shoes with clip in pedals compared to flexible running shoes.

Researchers believe that the stiff soles and shoe pedal attachment both positively improve cycling performance during uphill sprints. So a technical shoe might improve your ride, technically. 

If you’re still concerned about the style aspect, don’t worry. You can flex because Many brands have you covered. Modern cycling shoe advancements have made these technical shoes more fashionable, too. Some brands make identical designs for the uppers of flat soled and cleated cycling shoes, so you can have a great looking shoe while still getting the performance you crave.

The Ultimate Verdict

A person riding his mountain bike in sunset.

While you might be tempted to throw on your skate shoes to scale up a mountain, it might be worth your investment to get a serious mountain biking shoe. You can find a pair of shoes (with built in cleats or clips) for a small investment. Most professional mountain bike shoes run approximately $150-200 and last from six to 12 months, depending on use.

You can also choose the right pair for the terrain you ride, the level of muddiness (I always choose the easiest to clean shoes) and a variety of closure mechanisms. I avoid laces at all costs, so I lean toward the adjustable dials with bungee laces on most hard cycling shoes.

Look into brands like Shimano, Specialized, Pearl Izumi, and Giro which release technically sound shoes every year that might make your ride a little easier.

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Can you wear Vans to go mountain biking? The answer is a definitive yes. Truth is: you can wear any sneaker to go mountain biking. But is it ideal? No. Whether or not you want to after reading this research may be a different story.

Make a decision that works best for the comfort, style, and power you’re looking for in your mountain biking journey. Just know that whatever technical style of shoe you choose – a checker pattern is an absolute yes.